Saturday, May 27, 2023

Review / Lagavulin 14 years old Fèis Ìle 2023 Edition

This new limited edition single malt whisky is this year's bottling for the annual Fèis Ìle festival for the Islay distillery of Lagavulin. The Lagavulin Fèis Ìle 2023 Edition is bottled at 14 years of age and has been matured in American oak and European oak barrels before a finishing period in ex-Armagnac casks, which were sourced from France. This is the first ever expression of Lagavulin with such a finish. The casks were hand selected by Jordan Paisley, the Distillery Manager of Lagavulin. It is bottled at the natural cask strength of 58.4% ABV and will retail for £220. The Lagavulin 14 years old Fèis Ìle 2023 Edition is on sale from today at the distillery to celebrate their open day. 

Lagavulin is located on Lagavulin Bay, a small bay dominated by the ruins of the 13th century Dunyvaig Castle on the southern coast of the famous whisky island of Islay. The name is the anglicised name of the village in which the distillery is located - Lag a'Mhuilin, which translates as 'mill by the bay' from the local Gaelic dialect. The distillery was founded in 1816 by John Johnston and is currently owned by Diageo. It has an annual production capacity of approximately three million litres.

Our tasting notes

The colour is deep gold and the nose is rich, sweet and peaty. The peat smoke is mossy and ash-like with a whiff of sea spray and drying seaweed. Aromas of plump dried fruits (especially sultana) and golden syrup support the smoke well. There is also a hint of something reminiscent of barbequed meat, plus candied lime and a pinch of cocoa powder.

On the palate this whisky is is big, bold and punchy. The peat smoke is again upfront and drives the boldness - this is ashy and reminiscent of dying bonfire embers with some damp moss and dried seaweed thrown in. There is also a distinct, almost chalky, minerality to it. The smoke warms the mouth and has a distinct peppery quality too it, which is dampened a little when water is added. 

As with the nose this robust smoke is supported superbly by some luscious sweet and fruity notes. Notes of juicy sultana, raisin and candied lime lead the way and are quickly joined by further notes of toffee, golden syrup and a suggestion of milk chocolate. Savoury characteristics back everything up nicely - think of hints of salted caramel, old cigar box and some warming spices (especially clove, cinnamon and white pepper).

The finish is long. The expressive peat smoke drags everything out superbly and makes the the finish become more mineralic and drying with time. This is especially true once the sweet and fruity elements begin to fade, which allows the smoke to dominate and the warming spices to come to the fore.

What's the verdict?

This whisky is a bit of a stunner from Lagavulin and one that makes you wonder why more people do not use ex-Armagnac casks for finishing. OK, they are rare but they seem to work really well with this level of peat smoke. The balance sweetness versus smokiness is superb. 

This also drinks very well at the high cask strength. Water softens things a little and takes away some of the spiciness and boldness - this is no bad thing but we prefer it without. If you are lucky enough to be on Islay for Fèis Ìle over the coming week then we would recommend grabbing a bottle, although the price is a bit heavy.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I just had an opportunity to try this at the Johnny Walker experience center in Edinburgh and I have to say it was devine. Better than the 16.